Public Affairs and Agenda Setting:

Passive On-Lookers or Active Participants?

   Public Affairs and Agenda Setting

     Public confidence in the military is at a twenty-five year high since it reached an apex after the Gulf War (Gallup, 1999, June). The military as an institution consistently receives the highest public confidence ratings of twenty-six institutions according to annual Gallup polling (1999, June). Even after the Vietnam War, the military consistently received confidence ratings above 50% since the poll began in 1973. The military lagged only behind organized religion until it surpassed it for good in 1986. (Gallup, 1999, June). 
     The sex scandals that plagued all the services during the nineties – Tailhook and the Navy, Aberdeen and the Army, and Lieutenant Flinn and the Air Force – appear to be nothing more than momentary public disapproval of the individual services (Gallup, 1997, May; July, 1997). Americans view foreign interventions to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo in terms of presidential policy not as military successes or failures (Gallup, 1993, October; 1994, July, 1994; July, 1997; 1999, April).
     Currently, defense spending is at the lowest levels, as a percentage of gross national product, since before Pearl Harbor (Bandow, 2000). However, in real dollars, the pre-World War II GNP of $96.5 billion is about $1.2 trillion in today’s dollars. Compared to the GNP of $8.7 trillion in 1999, one percent of GNP today, means eight times as much spending as in 1940 (Bandow, 2000). Since a low in 1995 of $255 billion in defense appropriations, the defense budget has steadily risen to a proposed authorization likely in excess of $300 billion for Fiscal Year 2001(Wolfe, 2000).
     The increase in defense spending appears to have the support of Americans. A May, 1999 Gallup Poll states that 63% of Americans believe the United States’ military spending is "too little" or "about right." Although the percentage is down from 71% taken in a November 1998 Gallup Poll, it is higher than the 44% polled in 1990, and 55% polled in 1993 by Gallup (May, 1999). The eight-percent decrease over six months may, in fact, have more to do with United States involvement in Kosovo than any sudden change in public opinion on defense spending (Gallup, 2000, May)..

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